CLARK: Elizabeth! Elizabeth, hurry up with that. The draft is due in an hour!
[ELIZABETH rushes in carrying a large stack of papers. She is wearing a simple dress and an apron smeared with ink.]
ELIZABETH: Here they are sir …
[Just before she reaches the desk, she trips and the papers go flying.]
CLARK: Elizabeth! Must you be so clumsy.
ELIZABETH: I’m sorry sir. So sorry.
[ELIZABETH begins to pick the papers up off the floor.]
It’s just been a long day.
CLARK: Yes it has been. And it will be even longer if you don’t hurry up! You know how these writers get if the magazine isn’t on schedule. If The Knickerbocker is even one day late they will have my head …
[ELIZABETH finishes gathering the spilled pages and sets them in front of CLARK.]
ELIZABETH: I’m sorry Mr. Clark. I will be back in jiff with your tea.
[ELIZABETH exits. CLARK begins to sift through the pages. Music begins to play softly.]
CLARK: What a mess that girl … Elizabeth. I swear sometimes … I don’t know why I hired her.
- SHE’S CLUMSY
- SHE’S LATE
- SHE’S WAY TOO CHEERFUL
- THAT GIRL …
- HER TEA IS AWFUL
- I’D RATHER DRINK COFFEE, UGGH
- HER SPELLING’S ATROCIOUS
- HER WRITING EVEN WORSE
- THAT GIRL
- I DON’T KNOW WHY
- ELIZABETH …
- THAT GIRL
[ELIZABETH returns with the tea, narrowly avoiding a second spill. She sets it on the desk.]
ELIZABETH: Anything else sir?
CLARK: No. No that’s all.
[ELIZABETH begins to exit, but just before she gets off stage, CLARK calls her name.]
ELIZABETH: Yes Mr. Clark?
[CLARK picks up a page and points to it.]
CLARK: What is this?
ELIZABETH: A riddle, sir.
CLARK: A riddle?
ELIZABETH: Yes. You told me just last week that I could write one riddle for this next edition …
CLARK: I did?
ELIZABETH: Yes Mr. Clark.
CLARK: Hmmf. And this is your riddle?
CLARK: I don’t like it.
ELIZABETH: You don’t?
CLARK: No I don’t.
ELIZABETH: Does that mean you are not going to print it…? I worked so hard.
CLARK: Hard work alone does not merit a place in my magazine. It must be worthy as well. And most importantly … I must like it. Otherwise what kind of an editor would I be?
ELIZABETH: [To herself] A fair one …
CLARK: I’m sorry Elizabeth. I just think this particular riddle is … well … bad. If you can come up with another within the hour I will consider printing it. Otherwise … there is always next month.
ELIZABETH: There is no way I can come up with another in an hour! Are you sure you won’t consider this one? Do you even understand it?
CLARK: How dare you question my understanding!
ELIZABETH: What I mean is … will you let me tell the story behind it?
CLARK: We haven’t the time.
ELIZABETH: Please Mr. Clark! It will only take a minute or two. Maybe after I explain it then you will underst … like it better.
CLARK: Alright, you have two minutes to convince me that this riddle is indeed a valuable addition to this edition. Although I’m not sure how much that it is going to do …
[Music begins playing softly as she speaks.]
ELIZABETH: Thank you Mr. Clark! You see it all started on Monday morning … I was running late …
CLARK: You are always running late …
ELIZABETH: Anyways … I was coming down Forty-fifth between Broadway and Sixth I think … when all of the sudden this thing appeared out of nowhere and ran across the road … nearly tripping me …
CLARK: Doesn’t take much to do that …
- ELIZABETH: [Sings.] THIS THING
- A BLUR I COULD NOT SEE
- RAN RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME
- WHAT WAS I TO DO?
- WHAT HAD CAUSED MY SLIP?
- WHAT HAD INTERUPTED MY MORNING TRIP?
- WHEN I LOOKED TO SEE
- WHAT HAD STARTLED ME
- ALL THAT WAS THERE
- WAS A LITTLE CHICKEN
CLARK: A chicken?
- ELIZABETH: A CHICKEN HAD CROSSED THE ROAD
- I BEGAN TO CONTEMPLATE
- WHERE WAS HE GOING?
- WAS HE LATE?
- WHY DID THE CHICKEN CROSS THE ROAD?
CLARK: That makes no sense …
- WHY DOES A CHICKEN CROSS THE ROAD? I SAID
- THE PEOPLE, THEY ANSWERED
- THE BUTCHER, HE SAID
- TO AVOID MY KNIFE
- THE HUSBAND, HE SAID
- TO FLEE FROM THE WIFE
- THE GROCER, HE SAID
- TO GET TO THE GRAIN
- THE BAKER, HE SAID
- JUST TO BE A PAIN
- THE MAID, SHE SAID
- TO SEE WHAT IT’S LIKE
- THE WORKER, HE SAID
- GOIN’ ON STRIKE
- THE POET, HE SAID
- I DON’T KNOW WHY
- AND YOU KNOW
- NEITHER DID I
- Why does a chicken cross the road? Where could he possibly go?
- THE CARPENTER, HE SAID
- TO GET A PINT
- THE WIFE, SHE SAID
- HE GOT A FRIGHT
- BUT THE PAINTER
- OH HE WAS BRIGHT
- A GREAT IDEA, HE HAD
- WHAT IF?
- WHAT IF IT CROSSED?
- TO GET TO THE OTHER SIDE
- I THOUGHT AND THOUGHT
- AND DECIDED
- THAT THIS CONUNDRUM
- THIS MYSTERY
- MAYBE, JUST MIGHT
- MAKE A GOOD RIDDLE
CLARK: But does it? I still don’t know if I like it.
ELIZABETH: But Mr. Clark…
CLARK: Don’t “but Mr. Clark” me.
- DEAR LITTLE ELIZABETH
- YOU ARE SO YOUNG
- SO NEW IN THIS WORLD
- CLARK: DON’T FRET
- YOU’LL GROW
- YOU’LL LEARN
- YOU WILL SEE
- MY DEAR
- THAT THIS WORLD
- THIS PLACE THAT WE LIVE
- IS HARD TO UNDERSTAND
- BUT YOU MUST
- KEEP A COOL HEAD
- SO AS NOT TO SEEM
- LIKE A GIRL
- A GIRL WHO DOESN'T KNOOOWWW
- KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE
- TO LEARN ABOUT
- DIFFERENT THINGS
- TO KNOW WHY
- THE SKY IS BLUE
- THE GRASS IS GREEN
- IT’S A PRIVILEGE
- TO KNOW
- TO LEARN
- TO UNDERSTAND
- TO BE A SCHOLAR
- NOT FOR EVERYONE
- IT ISN’T
ELIZABETH: But I want to know …
CLARK: What do you want to know, my dear? I will tell you.
ELIZABETH: I want to know everything.
CLARK: Well I can’t tell you that … There’s not the time and I must return to my work.
ELIZABETH: Wait! I have one more thing to say about the riddle.
CLARK: Alright. One more thing. I still don’t like it though.
ELIZABETH: I was thinking just now … what if the chicken? What if it’s like everything?
CLARK: What do you mean child?
ELIZABETH: What if the chicken crossing the road is like everything? The same as the reason we do anything. Like why we print a magazine every month.
CLARK: We print the magazine because people read it.
ELIZABETH: But is that really why? Why do people read? Why do they do anything? What if the chicken crossed the road, just because others did before him. Just because that’s all he knew how to do. What if it was just to fill his time?
CLARK: Elizabeth. Are you suggesting that this riddle is akin to the great question of the universe?
ELIZABETH: I don’t know … What is the great question of the universe?
CLARK: “For what purpose do we do the things we do throughout our life?” The meaning of life, child.
ELIZABETH: Then I guess I am.
CLARK: I still don’t like it. Come up with another for next month and we will see.
ELIZABETH: But Mr….
CLARK: No. No. You go finish cleaning the types. You may go when you finish.
ELIZABETH: Yes sir. I will see you tomorrow.
[ELIZABETH exits and CLARK returns to his work.]
CLARK: Now. Where was I? Ahhh. “Why did the chicken cross the road? A riddle by…”
[CLARK takes his pen and crosses out ELIZABETH’s name and replaces it with his own.]